Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Discipline in our Schools

The Problem:

Students are unruly, noisy, and rude in class. Here’s an example of the problem -- I heard this story about a decade ago. A teacher disciplined a girl who wasn’t paying attention, and was talking to a friend in class. Upon being reprimanded, the girl turned on the teacher and said, “Get off my back, you f---ing b----!” I said the teacher must have sent the girl to the principal, and the teacher replied that it would do no good: the student would deny she had misbehaved, and the principal would not be able to back up the teacher.

But discipline is a National problem. A report titled “Teaching Interrupted” (search for it at http://www.publicagenda.org) is based on a national random survey of 725 teachers and 600 parents. The vast majority of teachers said their teaching would be a lot more effective if they didn’t have to spend so much time dealing with disruptive students. More than a third of the teachers say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession because student discipline is such a problem. Most teachers and parents said there should be a “zero tolerance” policy so students will know they will be kicked out of school for serious violations.

In a comprehensive report (see http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/5/cu9.html) these were the factors found to be important in improving discipline:

1.) Get commitment, on the part of all staff, on establishing and maintaining appropriate student behavior as an essential precondition of learning. Well-disciplined schools tend to be those in which there is a school-wide emphasis on the importance of learning and intolerance of conditions which inhibit learning.

2.) Insist on high behavioral expectations. In contrast to poorly disciplined schools, staff in well-disciplined schools share and communicate high expectations for appropriate student behavior.

3.) Devise and publish clear and broad-based rules. Rules, sanctions, and procedures should be developed with input from students, be clearly specified, and be made known to everyone in the school. Researchers have found that student participation in developing and reviewing school discipline programs creates a sense of ownership and belongingness. Widespread dissemination of clearly stated rules and procedures, moreover, assures that all students and staff understand what is and is not acceptable.

The above three steps could solve the discipline problem in any school. Notice that, when parents finally understand that the school is serious about discipline, they (the parents) will be motivated to encourage their children to behave, and perhaps to punish them if bad behavior continues.

If a school district doesn’t have the necessary rules, it will take determination on the part of principals and teachers to establish and then enforce them. It may take additional funding if a new school must be established to handle the worst offenders.

Action hoped-for from the reader.

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone interested in improving our schools. To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. We’d be glad to hear from anyone. You might like to tell us:

Why we’re wrong about the problem discussed above, or what additional problems exist that we‘ve ignored or overlooked.

What you think should be done to improve schools.

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